Extreme ultra-marathons in extreme conditions

What is happening to our world? While the North Pole has been losing sea ice over the years, the water nearest the South Pole has been gaining it. The Antarctic sea ice hit a record 7.51 million square miles in September and that was just days after reports of the biggest loss of Arctic sea ice on record. Good news for the extreme marathons that are held in the Antarctic, bad news for the poor old Polar Bear!

But this does not mean we’re heading for the big freeze, it’s just the way global warming is effecting the climate in different ways….

In 2011, more than 40 competitors from 15 countries gathered on the frozen continent to take part in the Antarctic Ice Marathon, the world’s southernmost half-marathon, marathon and ultramarathon races. These races are the only official foot races within the Antarctic Circle on the mainland continent. Clement Thevenet (FRA) dominated the men’s marathon (42.195km) distance and ran a record time of 3:47:07. In amazingly bright sunshine and temperatures of -18C, the Frenchman led from start to finish to take the title ahead of the USA’s Alvin Matthews and Matthew Von Ertfelda. Yvonne Brown (GBR) was a worthy winner of the women’s race in 4:26:10, finishing ahead of two previous North Pole Marathon winners, Emer Dooley (IRL) and Alison Hamlett (GBR).

Frenchman Clement Thevenet led from start to finish

Antarctic Ice Marathon

A day later, Claude Thevenet took part in the 100 km marathon and completed it in a mere 12:09:06 hrs, another new Antarctic record to add the title to his marathon victory. It was a little bit colder than the day before – just a little… with windchill temperatures dropping down to about -25C and the prolonged exposure causing two competitors, including Thevenet, requiring IV fluids after the race.

That wasn’t the end of the records set at this marathon extravaganza. The year happened to co-incide  with the Centenary year of Man reaching the South Pole and in honour of this event Irishman  Richard Donovan ran an epic 100 miles in a day (24:35:02 hrs).

A little bit about the Antarctic Ice Marathon

This year the Antarctic Ice marathon is scheduled for 20th November and for the first time ever the iconic ‘Marathon Flame’ will make the journey to Antarctica  for the 8th edition of the Antarctic marathon. Richard Donovan, organiser of the Antarctic Ice Marathon, said “When Pheidippides ran the first ever marathon from Marathon to Athens in 490BC, he was giving news of a victory over seemingly insurmountable odds. I’m certain the Marathon Flame’s first appearance on the seventh continent will inspire the runners to be victorious in finishing the race, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds Antarctica can sometimes present. The Flame’s presence in Antarctica will also demonstrate the truly global outreach of the Marathon Movement and its ideals.”  

RacingThePlanet’s 4th marathon of their 4-desert series is also being held this year, but first up is the Sahara Race. What a contrast. From the searing heat of the desert to the icy cold of the Antarctic. And the Antarctic is a desert. It is hard to think of it as such, but it’s true … it receives very little rain annually. It is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. It has an annual precipitation of only 200 mm (8 inches) along the coast and far less inland. The temperature in Antarctica has reached −89 °C (−129 °F).

Ye Gods!

To RacingThePlanet it is the Last Desert. And before it, as you well know, come 3 other mighty deserts and one or two unusual extras. They are 41 days away from the start of the Last Desert, but only 16 days away from the awe inspiring Sahara ultra-marathon. 7 days, 250 kms, self-supported apart from tents at night and as much water as you can drink or carry.

Their new venue for 2013 will be Iceland. “The country of geysers, volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, fjords and green hills will provide a dramatic backdrop for the 2013 roving race,” they say. The race will be held in August 2013 and you can still register for it if you wish to take part.

But out of all these fabulous settings, it is the Sahara race which is first up. “The Valley of the Whales, an area that was once entirely underwater and hosts 40 million-year-old whale skeletons” is one of the things that competitors can look forward to. “This U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site is a paleontological treasure.” 

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